Mogendoura resident Robert Bradley helped save the lives of 48 children every year – today, he is welcomed as a Member of the Order of Australia for his efforts.
Mr Bradley was CEO of the Royal Life Saving Society Australia for 16 years, and spearheaded the push for pool fencing.
“When I started, an average of 68 children under 5 would drown every year,” he said.
“One of our major missions was to reduce that dramatically, and I’m very proud to say that through the hard work and efforts of many people we were able to reduce that figure to 20 a year.”
Mr Bradley credited the reduction to education and pool fencing legislation.
“One of the most important parts of that was awareness by parents with young children,” he said.
“The second part was getting governments, particularly local governments, to understand the importance of home pool fencing.
“The most challenging part was getting governments to realise there was a problem.
“There’s a great reluctance to implement any sort of legislation that is going to cost the public money.
“It’s not going to win you many votes.
“It took nearly 10 years to get the majority of state and territory governments to implement legislation.”
Mr Bradley reducing child drownings was the proudest achievement of his career – but was impossible on his own.
“You don’t succeed unless you have a great team of people behind you,” he said.
“One of the best things that happened at royal life saving was I was able to build a fabulous team of people with expertise and passion, talent and ability, dedicated to drowning prevention.
“It wasn’t a personal achievement, but an achievement of what I was involved in.”
Mr Bradley was also a founding force for women’s rugby union in Australia.
“Working for the Australian Rugby Union many years ago I was able to develop a lot of junior rugby programs and introduce new groups of the community to rugby,” he said.
“That was great. I was responsible for pulling together the first Australian women's rugby team, the Wallaroos, and played against new Zealand and got beaten soundly, and was involved in a lot of the early coaching of women's rugby.”
Mr Bradley said seeing women’s love of the sport overseas – and their unique style – motivated him to open it up to women in Australia.
“In the early 90s I had the opportunity to be in the UK for the Rugby World Cup when the Wallabies were playing,” he said.
“I saw the joy that women had in playing rugby in England. There was a coaching conference on with representatives of women's rugby from Canada and New Zealand.
“I could see how much women and girls were enjoying playing, so why weren’t we doing it in Australia?
“That was the driving force to see whether there was interest.
“One of the things that really struck me was the girls and women played the game pretty much exactly to the techniques and the law of the game, so it was a very pure form of rugby, as opposed to men’s rugby where they're always sort of living on the edge of the law – at least in those years.
“It was fantastic to see the girls really get in there and execute the skills as they'd been taught and enjoy it.”
Mr Bradley acknowledged there was some opposition at the time, but he believes it was unfounded.
“Yes there was tackling and contact, but it was people of similar size and similar ability, they weren’t running into 15-stone men, they’re running into one another and tackling one another,” he said.
“I couldn't see any reason why not. We sought advice from the Australian Rugby Unions medical committee and they said there was no reason why not, so we thought we should explore it and see where it would lead – and it’s come a long long way since then.”
Mr Bradley said he was honoured to receive recognition for his efforts – but he would have done it all anyway.
“It’s a wonderful honour,” he said.
“All my life I’ve been involved in sport, one way or another, starting as a physical education teacher in Canberra.
“Anything to do with sport is a passion. I’ve just loved every minute of it, in each of the roles that I’ve played.”